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Tune in below to learn how FEAT grew their brand by partnering with popular influencers.

Nathan Resnick:

Hey, welcome to Product Sourcing Stories with Nathan Resnick. Today we have Taylor from FEAT Socks. This is one of my favorite entrepreneurs and founders of all time. I mean if you follow Taylor online, you’re always just excited to read his content and see what he’s doing. Taylor, welcome to Product Sourcing Stories. Can you give us a quick 30 second introduction?

Taylor:

Yeah, thanks for having me. And you’re also one of my favorite people to read about online. So the respect and love is mutual. Quick intro and background on me, started a company called FEAT Socks in college, was able to scale up pretty quickly. Socks, hoodies, hats, shoes, shirts, kind of entrepreneur onto a little bit of everything and yeah, been through the ups and downs, a lot of downs, some ups and still alive.

Nathan Resnick:

Nice. Love to hear it. Tell me about the first product you ever manufactured.

Taylor:

Yeah, so this was even before FEAT. The first product I ever, ever manufactured was t-shirts for my fraternity and sorority in college. And I was just from a local print shop, I figured I could make a margin, so I started manufacturing. Had no idea what a pain it was. So that was custom and we were doing custom stuff. And custom is great because you can get the money upfront and then you go and fulfill it after.

Taylor:

So I would get 1000 bucks from a fraternity and go spend 500 making the shirts. But with custom, there’s a million ways to get it wrong and there’s one way to get it right. So I remember, I thought I was killing it, I was making 20 grand a semester, I think my junior year. And I had this one 15 or $20,000 order and the shirts came back and they… I made them for the client and the client goes, “These are maroon, not burgundy.” Me, I’m just like, “Ah, isn’t that the same color?” Were like, “No, our school colors are burgundy, this is maroon.” And I was just like, “Damn.” So I went out of pocket because you have to really. So that made me realize like, “Damn, I have to…” And that was my manufacturer’s problem.

Taylor:

I also had a different manufacturer, I made 1000 pocket tees and the design was supposed to be in the pocket and for some reason it got shipped to the fraternity. It was 1000 shirts and the design was printed above the pocket. And the fraternity president called me, he’s like, “This has got to be a joke, right?” And I was just like, “Damn.” After that one, I shut down my business because it’s too much liability.

Nathan Resnick:

Yeah. I’m curious too, I mean when you were starting that and running that and printing shirts and hoodies and apparel for fraternities and sororities, did you ever think about manufacturing abroad or the first thought was like, “Let’s just go to the local print shop.”?

Taylor:

We had to move on such quick terms that we had to just go local and I didn’t even think about going abroad because I had no idea how to deal with China. I finally went abroad, this is my senior year of college, when we started making socks. We started making these socks and at first we would source them. We’d go to Ross and TJ Maxx and buy all the white Nike and Adidas socks. We had a little heat press and we prepped everything. 

Taylor:

And we did that for our first couple 1000 pairs and we’re like, “Okay, cool. We actually have to make these socks.” We started making them. Kept just buying white blank socks online and then it got to the point where, towards the end of the senior year, where we were doing a lot of revenue, we were going to put an order for 3000 pairs, which was so many pairs to us.

Taylor:

And I forget how, maybe through Alibaba or something, we got connected to some manufacturer in China. We get the samples, we go back and forth on approval. It takes forever, probably two or three months just to get a sock back and forth on approval, which is the… You have no idea. You have no appreciation for how many minor details go into a product until you try to manufacture it. You’re like, “Oh my God.” I didn’t know it was so complex and everything that can go wrong will go wrong.

Taylor:

So finally, we nail it and the thing with socks, it’s shipping back and forth. It takes 10 days to get something back and forth and things just take forever with the time zones, it’s just miserable. We finally had a product we like, we ordered 3000 pairs of socks, they’re awesome. We sell through them in probably a month or two. We’re like, “Cool. We’re going to grow, we’re going to order 20,000 pairs of socks.” So we put in our second order for 20,000-

Nathan Resnick:

You went from 3000 to 20,000?

Taylor:

Dude, we’re in college-

Taylor:

Yeah, we had no idea what was going on. We had 50… Because we sold a bunch of pairs and we had $50,000 in our bank account. We’re like, “We’ll just put it all in inventory.” $50,000 to buy 20,000 pairs or something and we’re waiting from arrive, we’re so pumped, and I remember, we had this little warehouse right next to our dorms in college that we had and 20,000 pairs of socks arrived which is a ton.

Taylor:

And we get them, we’re so pumped to put them on. Parker rips open one of the box, “Let’s go!” We’re all going nuts. “Look at all these socks!” He goes to put it on, he can’t put it on his foot. And I was like, “What?” The socks didn’t stretch. So they cheaped out on us and didn’t put any spandex in these socks… Parker was like, “Ah, this must be a bad batch.” We’re like, “We’ll open another box.” Same thing. We open another, same thing.

Taylor:

So we went from super excited to being like, “Oh shit, now we have no money.” We have socks that you literally can barely even put in your foot, they have no space… They’re so hard to put on. What do we do? And that really screwed us. So that let us know that relationships with manufacturers are so important. And what we’ve learned after is, just because they do one production run well, they might want to cheap you out of the next run. It’s important to have relationships and connections with those factories and stuff because we got burned and it was horrible.

Nathan Resnick:

Totally. That’s a great story. I mean you learn a lot just from listening to that. I’m curious right now because you know FEAT’s rolled out a bunch of different products now besides socks. Walk us through your teams process of validating ideas before you place these big purchase orders. I mean, how do you know a new product’s going to be successful before you place a big PO?

Taylor:

Yeah, so we start… That’s a great question because there’s nothing scarier than having inventory that you can’t sell because that’s just cash that’s tied up. You’re paying money to store it and you can’t liquidate it. It’s really hard to liquidate it. If you want to liquidate it, you have to discount it. Then you discount your brand and flood people with products they’re not going to buy full price later. So it’s really, really bad if you have inventory that you can’t sell. That being said, from socks, we tested into a bunch of different products. We tested bags, we tested hats, we tested fanny packs, we tested everything, we tested hoodies, we always test small, super small production runs and we’d rather pay a premium small versus take on the price savings and just be stuck with inventory.

Taylor:

So hoodies were actually one that we… When we started doing hoodies, it was through this company called Apliiq which I think… Yeah, you’re familiar with them. They’re in downtown LA. It’s a Shopify plugin where you just literally… They have a base, hoodie and then they design it on their end and when the order comes in Shopify, they print it and they ship it.

Nathan Resnick:

Got it. So it’s a print on demand type of model.

Taylor:

Yeah, they’re like Printful. There’s a lot of these companies for Shopify stores and we take no inventory. I think it was costing us 45 or 50 bucks a hoodie pull in and we selling them for 60 or 70 so we weren’t making the money but we were like, “Look, if we can make 10, 15 bucks and have no costs and no risks, why not?” Doing that and then I think month one we sold $200,000 of those hoodies.

Nathan Resnick:

Wow.

Taylor:

And we’re just like, “Okay, this market is validated and we could be making these hoodies way more effectively and efficiently and make a lot more money.” So that’s how we tested into hoodies. And then we started doing them in LA ordering, 10 or 20,000 units at a time in Los Angeles. Still not really at an effective cost, but really good quality control and we could see it and we thought we couldn’t go overseas because we thought we needed the quality of LA and LA is the best quality and whatever.

Taylor:

Then we recently, in the past couple of months, went overseas or we’ve been working on this for probably four or five months and it cut our price in half and it increased our quality. So we were after this idea that, made in the US, it’s the best quality and that’s just brainwash because China has the best machinery, they have the best quality control and the US there’s always differentiation with the runs. It’s just not set up to do things at scale, so there was always issues. So our quality has increased so much and our prices got a lot better. 

Nathan Resnick:

Got it. That’s amazing. So walk us through that process of, all right, you go from printing on demand to validate the idea, you then producing tens of thousands of units in LA and then you get to a point where, “Okay, we want to cut costs, let’s move overseas.” What’s that process of moving from a factory in LA to a factory overseas? I mean what does that look like? Do you just ship them samples or how does that work?

Taylor:

Yeah, it’s hard because no matter what, obviously everyone always wants to save money on cost, but once you devalue your product and your product’s not good, you lose. So it’s, number one, we always look at as how we can not sacrifice our product at all and we’d rather pay the high premium costs and have a better product than not.

Taylor:

So, that was always in our mind. No matter what we do, it has to be the most premium, high quality product. Product quality can never go down, it can only go up and it has to go up with every production run and we take pride in that. But as far as going overseas, it’s really hard because you’ll meet a bunch of people who can source or you talk to a bunch of factories and a lot of these people are… Communication barrier is really difficult. You’re shipping stuff, it takes weeks to get there or weeks back. It just takes forever and you just don’t know. When you’re established… No one wants to change up the relationships and start a new relationship.

Taylor:

The biggest thing is trust. Do you trust these people? If you wire them the money, and especially a lot of these factories need 50% upfront before they start and that’s a lot of money for us to wire. We’re going to pull it off. We talked to a lot of people.

Nathan Resnick:

Go it. So now that you have your products at the factory overseas, walk us through that process. How do you handle the freight and importation of those products to your warehouse in America? And then, also, how do you get your products from your warehouse to your end customers? Is it through a three PL or how does that operation look?

Taylor:

Yep. So as far as the freight and all the granular stuff, Parker, my partner deals with that a little closer. So I’m honestly not sure, it’s magic to me. It say’s I’m buying this and then they show up. So I’m sure there’s a lot more stuff going on there. But then we use a three PL called [ShipMonk 00:10:16] and they’re here based in San Bernardino in Los Angeles, probably an hour from us. So product goes from manufacturer to three PL or third party logistics company, order comes in through Shopify. That order gets routed to ShipMonk, ShipMonk fills that order, sends customer tracking.

Taylor:

So we made a decision as to sort of scale in the business because it got to a point where we were shipping hundreds of packages a day on our own and then I hired a warehouse manager and we had a warehouse and I was just like, “We’re not going to be the best shippers in the world. The same way we’re not the best manufacturers in the world. It makes better to use outsource partners who are pros at that and then we focused on other parts of the business.”

Nathan Resnick:

Got it. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Tell me about one tool in your supply chain or in your business as a whole that you couldn’t live without.

Taylor:

Oh, one tool in our supply chain that I couldn’t live without…

Nathan Resnick:

Or business, doesn’t have to be in supply chain.

Taylor:

I mean, business, Shopify just makes things so easy pretty common answer. I’m trying to think of something better.

Nathan Resnick:

I mean Shopify is the best e-commerce tool in the world, I think. I mean without Shopify you wouldn’t have all these small, medium size e-commerce businesses. It’d just be so much harder to start and scale.

Taylor:

Yeah. Shopify makes things so easy. I remember, well when we first heard about Shopify, it was 2015 or 2014 and we are in college and we got a meeting with the Chubbies founders and we are in college and Chubbies was the coolest thing ever. I think we were on a WordPress based site or something else and I just remember walking in from that meeting and we’re just like talking about it and the one thing he said 20 times, it’s like, “When you leave this meeting today, go start a Shopify.” And I was like, “What’s Shopify?” I remember kept asking and he’s like, “All that matters for you guys at your scale right now is be on Shopify. It will make your life a million times easier.” And that’s the advice I give all entrepreneurs. 

Nathan Resnick:

Yeah, hopefully he told you to buy this stock too, right?

Taylor:

Oh yeah. I got in a little early on that. I sold too early too. I rode that for awhile and that things a rocket ship!

Nathan Resnick:

Yeah, it’s pretty incredible.

Taylor:

But we all joke. My friends are entrepreneurs and we’re all like, “We would have made more money if instead of starting a Shopify store, we just put all of our money into Shopify:

Nathan Resnick:

Yeah, there you go. All right. So wrapping up here, tell us about one manufacturing disaster you had or if it’s not a disaster, one huge manufacturing success story where your partner really came through to fulfill orders in a high demand moment.

Taylor:

Yeah. So I think I talked a little bit about the disasters, whether it was the printing t-shirts incorrectly or the socks that didn’t stretch. And there’s been so many disasters and there’s just so many little things that happen and it’s things you don’t even know, like the eyelet of a hoodie, which is… I didn’t even know that word existed. And it’s just like, “Really? You’re going to mess that thing up?” Or it’s like the sizing, like, “Really?” There’s so many things that go wrong.

Taylor:

So things like that right, we’ve been in pinches sometimes where we need cash faster than we have product. So when we pay up bills or whatever and we’ll lock something on pre-order or presale, like a product we had lined up and launched a couple days early just to get the cash to cover some bills or whatever it is. And manufacturers ship really quickly and then ShipMonk will… Normally they take up to five days to receive your product. They’ll receive our product same day and save our asses and ship the stuff out the same day.

Nathan Resnick:

That’s amazing.

Taylor:

Them kind of going… ShipMonk and our manufacturers kind of rushing things when we need them especially we need them a lot, it’s been extremely helpful but there’s the scary stories. Oh my God, there’s so many horrible things. Even my last bottle, which was a water bottle company I was starting and working on, met someone at the Canton Fair and I thought like, “I’m going to do this all on my own this time.” Direct to the source, blah blah blah. I fly to China, I meet with a bottle manufacturer, he tells me it’s all good. I get these bottles and the cap doesn’t fully screw on. So the bottle leaks and I’m like, “Dude, I checked everything with you.” And I’m like, “Dude, how do you sell me a bottle that leaks? That’s number rule one. There’s two pieces to a water bottle, it’s a bottle and it’s a cap. Just make sure the cap screws on. That’s all you’d had to do.” And it’s still got messed up.

Taylor:

And you have no leverage in those situation. I’ve already wired him a bunch of money and he’s like, “I’ll make you more.” And I’m like, “Give me my money back or something.” And he’s like, “I’ll make you an extra 100 units.” And I’m like, “Well that does nothing for me, dude. That doesn’t fix the 1000’s of units who messed up.”

Nathan Resnick:

Yeah. Seriously. Well I know you have a lot going on, Taylor, and I’m sure a lot of people are going to want to get in touch or follow you. Where’s the best place to find you?

Taylor:

LinkedIn.

Nathan Resnick:

All right, awesome.

Taylor:

Taylor Offer on LinkedIn @tayloroffer on Instagram, mynewslettergroup-chat.com which will be changing soon to Melrosestreetjournal.com but follow me on any of the socials and you’ll find it.

Nathan Resnick:

Awesome. Taylor, thanks again for coming on Product Sourcing Stories.

Taylor:

Of course.